This has undoubtedly been a challenging year for the food industry. Rising energy and production prices; ingredient scarcity; increasingly volatile climate conditions; staffing and labour shortages; and cash-strapped consumers have made working at all stages of the food supply chain difficult in 2022. Nevertheless, there was positive news – if you looked in the right places, there was evidence of the weird and wonderful capabilities of food and the people behind it.
These are the quirkiest and occasionally strange stories Food Matters Live has covered this year:
Japanese scientists develop ‘smart’ chopsticks to add salty flavour to food
Back in April, a team of Japanese scientists revealed they had developed a pair of chopsticks which could artificially add the taste of salt to a dish. To use the chopsticks, diners wear a wristband which contains a mini-computer. The device transmits sodium ions from the food through the chopsticks and then to the mouth where they create the salty flavour using a weak electrical current.
The mission behind the electrical chopsticks is simple: to help people reduce their sodium intake without compromising on flavour. The Japanese have a particular penchant for saltier ingredients and dishes like soy sauce, miso and ramen, and so the utensils could become commercially successful. The researchers are still fine-tuning the chopsticks, but hope to launch them on the market next year.
Tofu wine made from wastewater launches in restaurants and online
Following on from the chopsticks, April brought another quirky food story in the form of SinFooTech’s new sake-like wine made from tofu wastewater. The Singaporean start-up claims its Sachi wine is the ‘world’s first’ soy-based wine and explained that it is made using wastewater from a tofu factory located near its distillery.
The main ingredient of SinFooTech Sachi wine is soy whey, a by-product generated from the manufacture of tofu. The resulting beverage is low calorie with a taste that the company describes as “clean, crisp, semi-sweet” with a “light, fruity finish” that is similar to sake. The wine also contains soy antioxidants and is gluten-free, vegan and 5.8% ABV. So far, the beverage has made it to local restaurants and the SinFooTech online store – with plans to expand in the future.
Researchers at the University of Tokyo develop edible ‘cement’ from food waste
Moving on to June, two materials scientists from the University of Tokyo Institute of Industrial Science made the news after discovering a way to make an edible ‘cement’ from discarded fruit and vegetable scraps. Using pulverised food scraps, like seaweed, orange, onion, cabbage leaves, banana peels and pumpkin, they mixed the resulting powders with water and seasonings. The mixture was then pressed into a mould at a high temperature to set it.
Why does the world need to make edible cement from food waste? According to the think tank Chatham House the production of cement is responsible for 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Furthermore, hundreds of billions of pounds of edible fruit and vegetable peels are wasted globally every year by the food industry and households. These very real issues were what prompted the researchers to act – the edible nature of the material is just an added bonus prompted by scientific curiosity. “Since we were using edible food waste, we were also interested in determining whether the recycling process impacted the flavour of the original materials,” explained Yuya Sakai, one of the researchers responsible for the invention.
The avocado alternative made with British ingredients
As July began, so too did the graduate show season – a time of the year which undoubtedly births some weird and wonderful food news stories. This year, Central Saint Martins Material Futures graduate Arina Shokouhi caught the attention of many when she debuted her latest invention, the Ecovado, an avocado alternative created to tackle food sustainability. Arina admits that the avocado has become “a modern day icon”, but the fruit comes with a harsh environmental impact because of how it is grown and shipped. The Ecovado, however, has no such impact.
“It was designed by identifying the chemical elements of avocados and the functionality of each molecule to try to find equivalents from more local and low-impact sources that do not rely on threatened crops,” explained Arina. The main ingredients – broad beans, hazelnuts, apple and rapeseed oil – are all easily sourced in Britain, thereby cutting down the carbon footprint significantly. The designer added: “Ecovado is an imitation that tries to improve upon reality, not merely reproduce it. And, hopefully, it will fool even the most sensitive of hipster tastebuds.”
Scientists develop ‘edible’ drone for use in rescue missions
With the year beginning to draw to a close in November, a team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology caught our eye with their weird and wonderful food news story involving an edible flying drone which they claim could help deliver life-saving nutrition to ‘disaster survivors’. The small flying aircraft had wings made from hexagonal rice cakes fixed together with gelatine.
Drones can deliver crucial supplies to people in need following natural disasters like flooding and earthquakes, but they can only carry about 30% of their mass as payload. This drone design solved that problem by making the wings part of the precious cargo. At the time of sharing, the prototype of the drone was capable of flying 10 metres-per-second. The next aim of the team will be to transform other, currently non-edible, pieces of the drone like the rudder.
Colour of plates can improve taste of food for picky eaters, new research suggests
The final quirky food story of the year promises to be a boon to picky eaters the world over. According to research carried out by the University of Portsmouth’s Department of Psychology, eating food from certain coloured plates can influence the taste and desirability of food for picky eaters. Previous studies have shown how the smell and texture of food can impact taste for picky eaters, but little research has gone into how it affects other senses, says the university.
Nearly 50 people, a mixture of picky and non-picky eaters, took part in the study, tasting the same snacks from red, blue, and white bowls, and noting their perceived saltiness and desirability. The results showed that for the picky eaters in the group, the snacks tasted saltier when eaten out of red and blue bowls in comparison to the white bowl. The snacks were said to be least desirable when eaten out of a red bowl. Non-picky eaters’ tasting experiences however were not affected by the colours of the bowls.